The City of Opportunity
Smiles brightened at Biggby Coffee when Fort Mitchell Police Sgt. Erica Schrand entered the shop. The baristas greeted her as she shook hands with customers and shared light-hearted banter with her co-worker, FMPD Sgt. Mike Gross, while he sipped his Grizzly Bear coffee and chatted with regulars.
For anyone else who visits Biggby’s, Gross’ favorite drink is actually called the Teddy Bear. The former detective coined the new moniker because he, “adds an extra shot of espresso,” he joked.
The atmosphere was comfortable, the conversation friendly. It was a typical day in Fort Mitchell, a community that has a tight-knit relationship with its police.
The coffee shop sits near the intersection of Dixie Highway and Orphanage Road, just a block from where Fort Mitchell’s border meets Lakeside Park. Around the corner sits the historic Greyhound Tavern, a community landmark that will celebrate a century of service to the town in just a few years.
“On Dixie Highway, we have two business districts that bookend the city,” said FMPD Chief Andrew Schierberg. “The Greyhound Tavern is sort of an iconic northern Kentucky restaurant. It was at the end of the line for the old streetcar route. The streetcar ran through Fort Mitchell, and when you got to the Greyhound, that was the turn around to go back to Cincinnati.”
The Fort Mitchell Police Department employs 15 full-time officers who serve a mostly residential, bedroom community of a little more than 8,200. At the opposite end of Dixie Highway from the Greyhound, the community is intersected by Interstate 75, which brings with it the typical hazards of a constant flow of traffic.
“We have been hit hard by the heroin epidemic just like everybody else,” Schrand said. “We had a big issue a few years ago in the Kroger parking lot with people shooting up.”
The grocery store sits just off of Fort Mitchell’s Exit 188, making it an easy target for drug users. The agency also has responded to regular calls of intoxicated drivers, some who have crashed in Fort Mitchell after buying drugs in or around Cincinnati and overdosing in the five miles down the interstate.
FMPD responded to the problem by mobilizing one of its special-enforcement teams, Schierberg said.
“Being a small department, we try to have opportunities for the officers,” he said. “We have a special-enforcement team, and when we have targeted issues we want to go after, it’s their job to take ownership of those. The special-enforcement team was tasked with identifying ways to reduce overdoses in the grocery store parking lot and attack the issue.”
The department also has a team assigned to community involvement, the chief said. It’s their job to look for opportunities to interact with citizens through programs, events and service when the officers are not responding to calls.
“It’s a pretty small community here,” Schierberg said, “but we manage to find a lot of opportunities to get out there. Sometimes we piggy-back off other events, and we try to do some cookouts each year. We hit different neighborhoods and spread it around a bit so residents can meet our officers and socialize.”
The department’s community connection efforts are well documented on its official Facebook page. From a recent Cops and Coffee 5K to hosting a fundraising event for the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, FMPD officers are embedded in their community.
‘It Was Very Humbling’
Perhaps one of the newest community outreach efforts is a German Shepherd puppy named Tony. Even Tony’s arrival at FMPD was a community effort.
For 17 of FMPD Specialist Shane Best’s 19 years in law enforcement, the officer said he has petitioned for a four-legged partner. This past April, Tony joined Best on the streets of Fort Mitchell as the first K9 in the department’s history, thanks to community fundraising efforts that topped $25,000.
“With the heroin epidemic right now, he’s a huge asset to us,” Best said.
Tony is a dual-purpose dog trained in drug detection, aggression, area searches, tracking and building searches, Best said. But one of his most important roles is public relations. Recently, Tony and Best got the opportunity to fulfill the dream of a 5-year-old Michigan boy undergoing cancer treatment in Cincinnati.
Stephen Hohauser’s love for police K9s has spread worldwide through the boy’s Facebook page, according to news coverage by WKRC in Cincinnati. Stephen is battling stage four neuroblastoma and recently was in Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a proton treatment, the TV station reported. A Wilmington, Ohio K9 handler organized officers from a dozen law enforcement agencies in Kentucky and Ohio to shower Stephen with wet kisses and furry hugs from their K9 partners.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and that was one of my favorite moments in my career,” Best said of the event supporting Stephen. “It was very humbling. You wake up some days and think, ‘My life sucks.’ And you look at him and he’s just so happy and smiling. He didn’t have a care – all he cared about was those dogs and talking to us. And for those brief two to three hours, he got comfort. He got to be a little boy.”
When choosing a dog to join the force at Fort Mitchell, Best said he and Chief Schierberg knew the dog would have to be community friendly. In addition to his visit with Stephen, Tony has displayed his skills for D.A.R.E. students at Blessed Sacrament Catholic School and at a local park for neighborhood children in between tracking suspects and sniffing out drugs. Because Tony and Best are assigned to second shift, they keep busy.
“The chief and I had a conversation and first thing, he said, ‘I don’t want you out when we have 30 dogs out.’” Best recalled. “On my shift right now, there is only one other dog available in three counties. So we get used. Our first week was really busy.”
On their first day together on the road after six weeks of training, Best said Tony was called to a traffic stop on the interstate.
“The stop was at mile marker 167, so the whole way down there I was sweating thinking, oh my god, he’s never seen the interstate,” Best said. “I was freaking out, which in turn, once I grab ahold of the leash, he senses I’m freaking out.
“So the whole way down there I’m talking to him,” Best continued. “When I drive fast, he knows, and he’s got his little head up here going, ‘What’s going on Dad? Where are we going?’ And I’m talking to him – and I’m sure if you had a camera you would all laugh at me. I’m telling him, ‘Come on, buddy, we can do this. We got this. You’re good, we got this.’ So we get down there and he did a great job. He did what he was supposed to do. He got us in the car. But the whole way I was thinking, this isn’t school anymore. This is real work.”
Their second day on the job, Best said he and Tony were called to Bellevue to track a suspect after a home invasion. At the time he received the call, Best said he was on the phone with his wife, who then began to panic when she realized that Tony didn’t have a bullet-resistant vest yet.
“My wife is on the phone and I told her, ‘We can’t have that conversation right now,’” Best said. “Now my wife’s freaking out. And I’m looking at him and thinking, ‘I hope you’re ready.’ And he was. He’s great at it – it’s probably his strongest suit right now.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years and it’s been me,” Best continued. “I trust my gut. Now I trust his. I’m just trying to enjoy it. In cop years, I’m old. An old dog with a new dog trying to learn new tricks. But I absolutely love it. I was asked recently if it is what I thought it would be. It’s more.”
‘Beyond Their Normal Duties’
In addition to their K9 officer, FMPD has a well-rounded staff of officers assigned to special duties or training. The agency employs one full-time detective, two certified D.A.R.E. instructors – one of whom is assigned as a school resource officer – two certified Rape Aggression Defense trainers, three firearms instructors and a bike patrol.
A mix of officers with varying lengths of service to FMPD and Kentucky law enforcement as a whole comprise the staff. Because of the large quantity of law enforcement agencies in northern Kentucky, Schierberg said it can be a blessing and a curse for recruiting and retaining officers. Schierberg said the current staff is a good, cohesive group.
“It’s good to have that for your community,” the chief said. “It helps them get to know the officers and helps the officers know who they’re serving.”
Part of FMPD’s success is their empowerment of individual officers, allowing them to take ownership in specific functions of the agency, Schierberg said.
“The agency I came from was a 30-person department with a number of specialized opportunities and promotional opportunities,” he said. “In a 15-person department, you don’t have the volume of assignments or different experiences. So we try to make up for that by allowing line-level officers to take leadership over certain things.”
For example, a patrol officer at FMPD is responsible for the agency’s fleet. With oversight from a sergeant, the officer manages the fleet, its maintenance and advises the chief about when new vehicles should be purchased and how they should be equipped. The same concept applies to the bike patrol, where an officer who is highly-experienced with police bikes manages the program. These assignments allow first-line officers the opportunity to develop leadership skills in those areas, Schierberg said.
“It gives people something beyond just their normal duties to develop,” he said. “And hopefully, if they end up leaving someday, they at least can say we have given them an opportunity to grow here.”
FMPD Patrolman Tim Pangallo is one of those officers who has been given the opportunity to blaze the path as the first school resource officer assigned to the Beechwood Independent School system. Pangallo just began his third school year at Beechwood – a unique campus that teaches students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“It’s kind of a different dynamic, but the neat thing is because it is all on one campus, I get to float back and forth between the high school and elementary,” Pangallo said. “It all kind of flows together. They all eat in the same cafeteria and everything.”
Being responsible for the wide-ranging ages of the students he mentors, Pangallo has worked to develop programs that serve them all. Before joining Fort Mitchell, Pangallo was a certified D.A.R.E. instructor for the Taylor Mill Police Department, and continued that service in Fort Mitchell even before the SRO position opened.
The D.A.R.E. curriculum is geared toward younger students, so Pangallo introduced the Drug Free Clubs of America for the high schoolers, he said.
“The kids can join the club and what they are saying is that they will agree to being randomly drug tested throughout the year,” Pangallo explained. “Once initially at the beginning of the school year and, throughout the year, anywhere from six to eight drug tests will be administered. The benefit to them is that they get a membership card. I go around to the community and get sponsors like Skyline, different restaurants, Kroger – they’re a big sponsor and usually give me Starbucks gift cards. If the students go into one of those stores with their membership card, they will get a free coney, drink with a meal, something like that.”
The first year, the DFCA garnered the attention of roughly 35 students, Pangallo said. The next year they more than doubled their membership with roughly 100 students volunteering to be drug tested. Pangallo and the school system have orchestrated ways for the program to be incorporated into extracurricular activities, too. For example, DFCA members attending football games will be entered into a half-time drawing to kick an extra point. If they are successful, game attendees each receive a free pizza.
“The whole point is that when these students are at a party or somewhere and they are offered drugs, they can say, ‘Hey, I’m in the Drug Free Club program and they may randomly drug test me,’” Pangallo explained. “So they can ward off peer pressure by saying they don’t want to take that chance.”
Working with the students in the school is a joy for Pangallo, who said he hears often from teachers how excited the kids become when they know it is D.A.R.E. day.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I have always been one who enjoyed mentoring young officers and, coming into the schools, now I get to mentor the kids. Working with the kids, they just ooh and ahh over you, want to see all your equipment and hear what you do on a daily basis. Part of getting into doing D.A.R.E. is talking to them about the stuff we deal with on the road. I tell them the reasons the teachers don’t teach D.A.R.E. is because we see it every day. We know what’s going on and what it leads to. Hopefully these programs will give them a better understanding of what it’s all about.”
The support Pangallo receives from the school system is consistent with what Best said he has experienced daily over his 17 years with FMPD.
“I love this community,” he said. “It’s like a second home. I have worked here so long I have friends here, so I take it personally if there is a car break in on my shift, because that may have been a friend of mine. There are a lot of good people here.
“I talk to people from all around the country – especially in K9 school,” Best continued. “One of them works up next to Ferguson, Mo. He goes to work every day, and the citizens in the city hate his guts. I don’t get that here. They want us here. We have support from the top, so it makes it even easier. When the people above you support it, and the people you work for support you, how can you go wrong?”
Fort Mitchell Facts
- Fort Mitchell Police Chief Andrew Schierberg just celebrated his first year as chief of the northern Kentucky agency in July. Schierberg spent 13 years with the Kenton County Police Department and grew up in neighboring Lakeside Park. Schierberg also is a licensed attorney, graduating from Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law in 2009.
- While the city’s population reaches just over 8,200, Fort Mitchell is the final resting place for more than 120,000 people buried in three cemeteries.
- In addition to the agency’s Facebook page, Schierberg maintains his own official page to communicate information to local citizens. Schierberg managed KCPD’s social media as the agency’s public information officer and enjoys the opportunities it provides for community engagement.
- Fort Mitchell received a 100 percent rating from Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services’ safety and liability review, one of only 12 in the state.
- The city of Fort Mitchell is approximately 3-square miles, according to the 2010 census.
- The agency has been accredited by the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police since 2001.
- Fort Mitchell is home to the Beechwood Independent School System. The school, which teaches kindergarten through 12th graders, has received the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence Award for both elementary and high school programs. Its students scored in the 99th percentile with distinguished rankings on state exams, and the school system is ranked second among Kentucky’s 173 school districts.